Easily accessible from Johannesburg by road or the Gautrain, Pretoria is a friendly, attractive little city, a charming mix of old and new, and is spectacularly beautiful in October, when over 50 000 purple jacaranda trees that line the roads burst into vibrant colour and give Pretoria its nickname of the “Jacaranda City”.
As you would expect of a historical city, now the seat of democratic government, Pretoria itself is packed with things to do and see.
Church Square, its historical centre, is the home of the first House of Parliament and historic houses and museums. Here a large bronze statue of Paul Kruger, first president of the Transvaal Republic and regarded as master builder of the Afrikaner nation, looms over fine examples of 19th– and 20th-century architecture, including the Palace of Justice, where Nelson Mandela’s infamous Treason Trial took place.
Another iconic Afrikaner monument and one of South Africa’s most-visited tourist attractions is the Voortrekker Monument, a heritage site that towers high on a hill in a nature reserve overlooking the whole city. The huge 62m-high brown edifice celebrates the pioneering spirit of the early trekkers, who journeyed far from the Cape Colony in the 1830s and 1840s to escape British rule.
Freedom Park, a huge outdoor space, pays tribute to the leaders and people of South Africa who rescued the country from its dark apartheid past.
Go 40km north-west of Pretoria, even further back in history and visit the Tswaing Crater, where a giant meteor crashed into planet Earth approximately 220 000 years ago and left its mega mark – 1.13km in diameter and 200m deep.
But Pretoria is not only about history. It’s also home to award-winning parks; one of the world’s top 10 zoos; botanical gardens; and wide-open spaces where birds and small mammals live, such as Groenkloof Nature Reserve and Austin Roberts Memorial Bird Sanctuary. It is also regarded as one of South Africa’s top cities for restaurants, malls, museums, galleries and nightlife hotspots.
Areas such as Hatfield, site of the prestigious University of Pretoria, are pumping at the weekends, and if you’re looking for boutique lifestyle centres, clubs and trendy eateries, you’ll find them all here. If you’re a sporting fan, you will certainly have heard of Loftus Versveld stadium, home of the Blue Bulls rugby team, and venue for many top sporting events.
Just under an hour’s drive from Pretoria is Dinokeng, the only Big Five game reserve in Gauteng, where elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo and lion all roam free. Spend a night at an upmarket lodge, go camping or caravanning, choose a tented camp or just take a guided day trip from the city.
Tshwane really does have it all – from history, heritage, nature and wildlife, to shopping malls, theatres, clubs, restaurants, street markets and sporting venues. Make sure it’s on your itinerary.